The Olympics and Dissertating: Reflections of a Former High School Nerd
One of the effects of the Olympics on my academic work is that it actually compels me to be more productive. In between bouts of watching American swimmer Missy Franklin win gold, Canadian synchronized swimmers Roseline Filion and Meaghan Benfeito win bronze, and Philippine light flyweight Mark Barriga reach the quarter-finals after pummeling his heftier and taller Italian opponent, I frantically dissertate. That each match doesn’t take that long means that I can easily justify to myself taking quick 5 to 10 minute breaks to get caught up in Olympics fever. I can even bypass the ads by catching all of the matches on CTV’s website, which also allows me to skip over the inane commentary offered by the sports anchors.
If I were to be brutally honest, though, what compels me to keep writing during the Olympics is fear. Fear, you say? Yes, fear. You see, readers, while watching these amazing athletes push themselves to excel in their sport is inspirational, it has also awoken the dormant, insecure 13-year old nerd inside me. Those of you who knew me growing up know that I have never been good in sports. Gym class for me was a constant source of stress. Transferring from a posh, Catholic all-girls school where gym consisted of dance (seriously) to a private, international school which prides itself on having an Olympics-sized pool and a well-regarded athletics program compounded my insecurity, for then I was suddenly thrust into gym classes where field hockey, lacrosse, and rugby were common sports. In a plot point that Amy Heckerling could have written, on my very first day of school as a new kid, I had gym class in the first period; what were we doing during gym class, you ask? Oh, you know, we had to be ‘tested’ for our agility, our flexibility, our speed, and our strength. This involved our gym teacher - who was rumored to have been in the American Olympics team as a shot putter in the 1980s – carrying a stop watch and supervising us as we did push ups, sit ups, and chin ups.
The kicker, though, was when we were timed as we ran hurdles. Imagine this scene: gawky, short me at 13 confronting hurdles that reached up to the top of my tummy; a former Olympian as a sports teacher; and, worst of all, an entire audience of new classmates in the stands watching. Can I just add that never before in my life have I ever done anything track and field related? What the hell were hurdles? When our teacher then gave me and the other person I was running hurdles with the go signal, I stared at him blankly. “GO!,” he yelled at me. “GOOOOOO!!!!” I saw my classmate breeze through the hurdles, jumping like – I don’t know – Billy Fucking Elliot over the hurdles. Afraid of my gym teacher and conscious of the curious stares of my classmates in the stands, I then started running and blindly jumped. (Oh, right, at that age, I had these thick glasses and could barely see. I still can’t).
Then I tripped. Yes, I tripped. I was, at that point, 5’2 on a good day. (I’ve grown two inches since, ha!) The hurdles, as I’ve mentioned, were half my height. So I lay there on the grass, mortified. At 30, this would have been embarrassing and bruising to the ego. At 13, this may as well have been the end of the world. It became even more traumatic because what did my gym teacher do when he saw me tripping and lying on the grass? Did he help me up and kindly tell me to forget about it? Nooooooo. He knelt down beside me and said, “I’m still time keeping. Get up! GET UP! GET UP!”
I tell this tale of woe not to garner any sympathy because this tale isn’t unique; all of us have gone through moments in high school that are so traumatic that it continues to scar us as adults. I am giving this anecdote to highlight how watching the Olympics today has again hammered down the point that I will never be agile, or fast, or flexible and that, really, all I’ve ever been ‘good’ at is school. So when I see US gymnast Gabby Douglas kicking ass in her floor routine, the reality that I can never ever be an athlete, much less a star athlete, is grilled into me. My mom’s words of consolation to me as a 13 year old ring in my ears once again: “don’t worry. You may not be good in sports but you get good grades.”
So this is why I am writing madly during the Olympics. I am driven by the same fears because hey, I may never win a gold medal in sports in anything, but at least I can finish a dissertation, right? Even though billions around the world are there to witness athletes win gold and only, like, five people will ever read my dissertation in its entirety, finishing my dissertation to me makes me the equivalent to Michael Phelps. For those naysayers out there who insist that in the battle of brawns versus brains, brawns always win, don’t say anything and let me have my delusions.